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RES Alumna receives Fulbright Award, will travel to Finland for research project

Maureen Mascha, Class of 1973 alumna and current associate professor of Accounting at Purdue University Northwest, has received a Fulbright Award to conduct research related to sustainability reporting and textual data analytics at the University of Vaasa in Finland. 

Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by late Senator J. William Fulbright, of Arkansas, the Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government. The program gives faculty, scholars, and professionals the opportunity to study, teach, and conduct research in each other’s countries. It is one of the most prestigious and well-known international exchange programs in the world.

“It’s a very competitive award…It’s run by the Department of State, and what it involved was me finding a host institution that shared the same research interests that I did,” Mascha said.

“The University of Vaasa in Finland, had faculty in accounting who did research in decision analytics, which is what I do research in, as well as sustainability. And there are reports that are published called sustainability reports,” Mascha said. 

Sustainability reports highlight the environment, social, and governance issues confronting a given company. They are voluntary in the United States, but in Europe, depending on the country, they are mandatory. 

Mascha said in the United States, because they are voluntary, “the content is everywhere from the devil to the deep blue sea - it can be very specific and fact based, but usually it is laced with glorified adjectives and glowing descriptions of what the company is doing to make the planet a better, safer place.” She said research shows most statements in sustainability reports are inflated and provide misleading information, or “greenwashing.”

“I’ve done research in that area, and one of the problems with greenwashing is that millennials and Gen Zers, and especially young women, who use sustainability reports as a proxy in making an investment decision; so instead of going to say the annual report or the 10K, where there are hard data, such as the balance sheet and the income statement, readers who fall into those categories will go to the sustainability report, they see these glossy pictures, and they’ll go out and invest in that company or in the mutual fund in which that company operates, so they invest for the wrong reasons. They don’t invest for financial reasons, they invest because of this greenwashing effect,” Mascha said.

Mascha leaves for Finland in mid-August and will be gone for 10 months. She will meet with the University of Vaasa’s colleagues and have the opportunity to teach, in addition to her research. 

Her goal is to determine if there are ways of minimizing the effect of a sustainability report on the user’s perception of the company; and to determine if any or all of those mechanisms work, which ones work better.

In reflecting on her days at RES, Mascha realized that in some ways her high school education led her to where she is today. She was on the paper, the RES Banner, and also took journalism with Sister Jerome, which led to her winning a creative writing award for a college. From there, Mascha transferred to DePaul, after realizing through part-time work that she really liked accounting. For the first 17 years of her career, Mascha was a practicing accountant and traveled around the world. She then decided she had “enough of corporate life,” and went back to school to get a doctorate, do some research, and teach. 

“It was a lot of the courses, a lot of the analysis, a lot of the writing that I did that really helped determine my future in terms of what I liked and what I wanted to do. I knew when I was at RES, as a matter of fact my sophomore year there, they had done a survey asking the girls, ‘what do you envision your future education being and what degrees do you anticipate earning?’ and I had put down a Ph.D. and that was back when I was 15,” Mascha said.

“I just enjoyed that. I enjoyed the reading, I enjoyed the comprehension, and that’s a big part of getting a Ph.D., obviously, is being able to read text, comprehend it, write about it and logically go through and analyze it.” 

Mascha said RES also gave her a foundation and allowed her to explore. 

As an all-girls school, it “removed that third-wheel distraction that you have when you introduce teenage boys to the equation. Girls act differently when boys are around than if they were not…All of the student officers were girls. Usually in mixed-gender education, the president is nine times out of 10 a male, and he may also have something to do with the football team or the basketball team…” Mascha said, adding that “you were free of this gnawing worry of ‘is he thinking about me? Is he looking at me?’ and all that other stuff, and you didn’t have to worry about not competing, because you didn’t want to hurt his feelings, because a lot of times I know from my own nieces that have gone to mix-gender schools, they’ll say ‘I don’t want to be the best in the class, I don’t want to be the nerd, because I want to get a date to the junior prom’ or something of that nature, which always just drives me nuts, because my attitude is, well be that nerd, be the best and the heck with him. But that whole element was removed.”

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